Bob Marley (third right) is flanked by members of The Commodores, including Lionel Richie (secondleft) backstage in September 1980. Stooping at front is promoter Frankie Crocker. (Photos: Courtesy of Copeland Forbes)

The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk presents the ninth in a series titled 'Bob Marley — The Last 40 Days' to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his passing.

SEPTEMBER 1980 was a busy month for reggae superstar Bob Marley. He was in the midst of his United States tour to promote the album Uprising, driven by its lead single Could You Be Loved.

He was also booked to open for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden but had one special wish...to surprise his favourite singer Dennis Brown with a guest appearance at a show headlined by the 'Crown Prince of Reggae'.

Reggae music insider Copeland Forbes was part of the organising team for the Dennis Brown event which was set for Beacon Theater. It was promoted by Ken Williams and would feature other Jamaican acts including Junior Tucker, Carlene Davis and Ruddy Thomas, all to be backed by Lloyd Parks and We The People band.

“Bob was big in New York that year. He really wanted to cut into the black American market and so opening for The Commodores was part of that move. He was really working the New York market and even had a float during the parade on Eastern Parkway that year,” Forbes told the Jamaica Observer.

“He [Bob] was staying at Essex House and I would go over there to meet up with him everyday. So when he heard Dennis Brown was going to be in town he told me he wanted to surprise him and perform two songs on the show. Everybody know how Bob love Dennis...him always said that was his favourite artiste. So he told Lloydie [Parks] to rehearse the two songs, I can't remember which two songs, so he could be there for his artiste.”

On the night of the show the venue was packed but Brown missed his flight to New York that day from his base in London. It was finally agreed that the show would be held the following Friday with the same acts.

The lot fell to Forbes who had to face the fire of an anxious audience. So, he hatched a plan.

“I told the band to go out and start playing. They played a few warm-up tunes and got the audience settled and then I just went out and told them that Dennis Brown did not make his flight but the show would be held next Friday with all the same acts. But as a treat the other acts would perform two tracks from their set, and I told them to hold on to their tickets and those who could not make it back next week would be refunded at the door,” said Forbes.

Unbeknownst to Forbes and the team, Marley was outside the theatre in his limousine waiting for his call to perform and didn't know that the show had been rescheduled.

“When I hear he was outside I rush out. He is sitting in the limo and told me he has been there since 8 o'clock but waiting for someone to call him when we are ready. I had to tell him the show was postponed.”

Marley was not able to make the new date as his tour was set to kick off in Massachusetts in a few days. He, however, gave the promoters his support in doing damage control and did radio interviews to help promote the new date.

A few weeks later Forbes would witness Marley decimate the famous Madison Square Gardens as opening act for The Commodores. Two days after, tragedy struck when he collapsed in Central Park. Then came distressing news of the cancer diagnosis and Marley being given weeks to live.

Following the diagnosis Marley was forced to cancel all but one of the remaining dates on the tour and seek medical attention in New York.

“Bob stayed in New York and again, I would go see him. He used the time to check out the city and go watch boxing. I remember one night he went to see a play called Your Arm Is Too Short To Box With God. One day as I got there he was rolling a spliff and I said, 'How yuh feel, Ska?'... that was my name for him. He just continued rolling the spliff, which was more like a large cone, and then said: 'Mi nah think 'bout that,' “ said Forbes.

Marley left New York for West Germany and the care of alternative cancer specialist Dr Josel Issels. He died on May 11, 1981 in Miami, Florida, en route to Jamaica.

Bob Marley shares a photo with American promoter Frankie Crocker and R&B singer Dionne Warwick backstage MadisonSquare Garden in New York.
BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter johnsonr@jamaicaobserver.com

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